By Eric Gross
A marathon meeting of the Putnam Legislature conducted before a standing room only crowd at the historic Putnam Courthouse in Carmel Tuesday evening finally resulted in the approval of a senior center project for Philipstown.
The meeting began at 7 p.m. and didn’t end until minutes before the stroke of midnight.
By votes of 6-3, with Legislators Roger Gross of Southeast, Dini LoBue of Mahopac and Kevin Wright of Mahopac Falls all voting against, the legislators approved resolutions regarding a revised lease agreement for the Lahey Pavilion, with the county renting 6,000 square feet of space for the center in addition to the approval of a SEQRA determination, a bond resolution authorizing the sale of bonds not to exceed $800,000 and a budgetary amendment for the project.
As the meeting began, Legislator Wright requested that public discussion be permitted prior to the lawmakers taking their historic votes. Wright called it a way to provide “fundamental fairness.”
However, Legislature Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino replied that the “structure of our meetings does not allow for discussion prior to the vote.”
A roll call was taken and Legislators Gross, LoBue and Wright voted to allow the pre-vote discussion while the majority cast negative ballots. Nacerino assured the public that they would have the opportunity to discuss the items at the conclusion of the meeting.
Nacerino then addressed her colleagues and the large audience charging that a “groundswell of inaccuracies” surrounded the project from Day One: “Public engagement has been afforded over and over again. This is the most cost-effective plan. We don’t want to tie the hands of future legislators by owning more buildings. Our role in county government is to make countywide decisions. The center is a good project for seniors and all the residents of western Putnam County.”
Legislator Carl Albano of Carmel described the center as a “decent project that will benefit Cold Spring, Philipstown, Putnam County and the Haldane School District.”
Albano was referring to the property tax generated by the project for the local municipalities. Legislator Joseph Castellano of Brewster compiled an analysis: “The cost of the center for the county will be $13 per square foot that will increase to $17 per square foot after 15 years. In return, village coffers will receive $5,200 in annual tax revenue while the county will receive $3,600; the Town of Philipstown, a similar amount and the Haldane School District a whopping $18,200 annually from the landlord.”
His figures reflect only the taxes on this relatively small part of the space at the site. The much larger overall project will bring in a total of $431,596 net in taxes to the county, town, village and school district, after costs related to it are accounted for, according to an earlier analysis of tax impacts. Haldane gets most of that, or $325,993 annually, net.
Legislator Gross publicly commended Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra for her efforts in the four-year long project: “While Barbara has done a wonderful job representing her constituents in western Putnam, the dynamics of the project have changed. We must now look elsewhere for another venue like the Cold Spring American Legion building. I can’t support the bond or the lease.”
LoBue also called on her colleagues to “look at other venues that will be cost effective. The American Legion Hall should be renovated. We must own this facility since it is always better to own than rent.”
Albano answered: “The American Legion was never offered to us. Bonding is at historic lows. Besides, it’s expensive to own a building. The renting option has great potential.”
Also, veterans in Philipstown are not seeking to sell the American Legion building, behind Town Hall, especially now that they’ve already sold the VFW building that was in Cold Spring. In any case, it would require extensive renovation work likely to take years in planning, approval and construction.
Scuccimarra called on the lawmakers to “work together. Without partnerships the center will never see the light of day. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Wright, calling himself a senior citizen, charged that the Butterfield proposal was not “beneficial for Putnam County. When the county agreed to a switch in property for the center, I withdrew my support. How do we know that nothing else is available? We are putting the cart before the horse. This is not in the best interests of all the residents of our county.”
Scuccimarra snapped back: “There is no other feasible space available for our senior center.”
Four roll call votes were taken and in each case, the resolutions were approved by votes of 6-3.
Two dozen seniors from Cold Spring applauded the decision.
Linda Ewing, secretary of the Philipstown Senior Club, rose to the podium: “We are a political football being kicked around. Seniors need stimulation as well as recreation. We aren’t getting any younger – just older. There might have been a better deal but this is what we have. The community must work with us.”
For the next 90 minutes, 19 speakers, all opposed to the project, addressed the nine-member governing body.
Cold Spring Mayor Dave Merandy took offense to “critics who questioned those opposed to the center as being anti-senior. I care deeply about senior citizens but the rationale and thought process you have made here tonight is irrational. We are not against senior citizens but to throw away money is crazy. The project is just wrong: No, it is terrible.”
Others like former village trustee Stephanie Hawkins, deputy town supervisor Nancy Montgomery and Historic District Review Board member Kathleen Foley continued the barrage against the project. Montgomery queried: “Why is this lease so secretive? Why wasn’t it forwarded to Philipstown officials?”
Outside the meeting hall, Ed Cook of Mahopac, a leader for the Building Trades Union, stated that his rank and file was in favor of the project: “More than 10,000 tradesmen pay taxes in Putnam County. It is imperative that the seniors of western Putnam get their center.”
Construction is well underway at Butterfield, a mixed-use development at the southern entrance to Cold Spring on Route 9D. The renovation of Lahey, however, is dependent on the completion of the new Building 2 at the site, so that doctor’s offices now in Lahey can be shifted to the new structure. That’s expected this fall.